Author, teacher and theologian Mahan Siler wrote the following essay for clergy in the Alliance of Baptists, a network of progressive leaders and congregations. The original essay has been revised to speak to a larger context of multifaith leaders.
I am Mahan Siler, a former pastor long retired to the balcony. From my remote position I’m wanting to encourage those of you "on the field” leading in religious communities amid what may be the most severe turbulence of our lifetime. We can’t find words for the disorientation and losses and learning we are experiencing.
I feel privileged to share a word of encouragement. Simply, I am offering a reminder of what you know but, in a crisis, can easily be forgotten: you who serve in ministry are uniquely well-positioned to lead in this time of great uncertainty.
In this time of dying of what was, you know about death. Your work keeps you acquainted with dying. Others can deny death. You cannot. You know it well, whether with persons or structures or worldviews. You bring an angle of vision that anticipates life rising out of death. You have seen this power at work, experienced it and proclaim and teach regularly this possibility. And when you sense it, you align with this generative force of new creation.
In this time of disarray, you know about chaos. You know it well, whether in interpersonal relationships or congregational life or global mayhem. Regularly you observe and experience the coming apart of what has felt stable. And you know to look for collaboration emerging out of the chaos. You expect to find in chaos a yearning for re-ordering into more wholesome, life-giving forms. You have cultivated sight for the Spirit at work in chaos. And, when discerned, you are prepared to participate in these moments of transformation, whether small or large.
In a time of insecurity and frenzy, you know about fear. Chronic anxiety is the air we all are breathing. Daily you observe its predictable behaviors of blaming, reacting, polarizing and rush for quick fixes. Yet, you know more. Regularly you invite a grounding in grace beneath these turbulent waters. You declare our rootedness in life as beloved, as God’s delight, as instruments of the Divine force of justice-love.
In a time when individual humans and non-human beings (including the coronavirus) are seen as separate and unrelated, you see differently. You see relationships. Though separation appears to be the case, you know this to be an illusion. You know the new and old story of inter-being, communion and wholeness. It's old because it is the ancient story of shalom. And it's new for many people who are beginning to see that creation is relational through and through. Consistently you address the deep wound of separation from each other, from God and from the earth. You call out this lie. You name this delusion. You teach and preach -- No Separation! You keep reminding others that we are loved with a Love from which nothing now or later, nothing in life or death can separate us.
In this time of uncertainty, you have a word of good news. In the midst of so much uncertainty you declare the certainty of Love that never ends. You know that the opposite of uncertainty is curiosity and wonder, not certainty. Indeed, you know the divisive side of tight-fisted clinging to certain ideology and “right” believing. So you value living into the paradox of both knowing and not knowing. You point to Love’s power to bless, to heal, to live through us with words that fall short every time. Mystery has the last word. Daily you wager your life and vocation on this gracious, ineffable wonder some name God, Allah, Christ, Holy Spirit, Divine, Sacred.
So, from my balcony receive my word of blessing and through me the blessing of God. I’m reminding you of what has been your Source of strength. I am reminding you of your well-positioned readiness to lead from this Source for others. I am reminding you of what you know and who you are.
From my retirement position I am particularly grateful for you “on the field” of active ministry during these unprecedented times. Knowing you are there offering your gifts strengthens my hope and the hope of many.